I avoided watching this film because of the actor Robert Redford. There. I said it. I’ve never warmed to his style, don’t know why but I guess I personally find it wooden, especially in this age of film when up against actors like Joaquin Phoenix, Ralph Fiennes or Domhnall Gleeson. Guys and gals who transfix on screen with the ability to communicate emotion without the spoken word. All I remember of Redford in his role in Spy Game is of the wooden, cocky bloke who goes to rescue Brad Pitt with his “hard won” expertise.
Anyway, I gave it a shot because I was interested in the premise and am pretty much petrified of deep water, by which I mean over 50m deep, not the deep end of the pool. I go sailing with my Uncle and I am ok so long as I don’t think about what I’d do if I fell in, or if the yacht sank…which is exactly the nightmare Redford finds himself in. The premise that drew me in was that this film is very much a fly-on-the-wall film, one that you feel puts you in the room, as it was, and makes you feel like you shouldn’t be there, or should be helping or interacting in some way. That together with facing my fear of deep water made this a must watch.
Redford is credited as “Our Man” and awakes one day to find his yacht leaking. Major bummer. He appears to be in the middle of fucking nowhere, with just himself and his yacht. Maybe he’s lost. Maybe he’s finding himself. Anyway, the culprit, a large shipping container, has pierced the hull of his yacht. What then transpires is a story about him, Our Man, dealing with it. Sounds fascinating. And it is. It’s a slowly unravelling, painfully desperate descent into despair, madness and helplessness.
With no word spoken at all, except a few voiceovers and one long, exhausted sweary word (Fuck, for those interested), it’s pretty much a speechless documentary about Our Man dealing with his yacht failing him on every front, and his unwavering positivity in the face of abject disaster. Just when you think he’s got it all sussed, along comes something else to chuck in the proverbial spanner. The culmination of all his efforts arrives when mid-jumper don, he spots a massive container ship (irony, right?) in the distance and gets his trusty flares out to wave like a madman and get rescued. Failed attempt. Nothing. He’s alone once more except for the sharks that have assembled below him.
He must be in the shipping lane (Castaway, thanks) as he’s awoken with another container ship going past, this time right above him. Grabbing a flare he fires it into the night sky beside the ship. For good measure he sends another one up with it – a sure thing. A safety. He’s now out of flares but so what, there’s no way he can be missed now. The flares complete their trajectory and fizzle out on the water’s surface, with the ship’s momentum remaining steadfast and unrelenting. The next day he writes a suicide note, asking for forgiveness from his family and sends it off in a jar; Our Man’s message in a bottle.
This is where the film reaches its most glorious moment. He awakes once more in the night and spots, on the horizon, a light. Is it real? Is his desperation so high that he’s willing a rescue into existence? There’s only one way to find out – illumination. But he’s used all his flares. Such is the magnitude of his will to live, and perhaps as a last move of desperation, he sets a fire inside the plastic water can, the one that he chopped in half to create drinking water through condensation techniques earlier. Of course this fire does as it should, and melts the plastic before long, which then sets alight his inflatable life raft and sends him headfirst into the water, to watch his last and only method of survival burn in a melting fireball of rubber and plastic. He gives up; mentally and physically he is done, beaten. He has made his peace with his misgivings and is now, after the arse is burned out of his dingy, without means of keeping himself afloat. He sinks down under the surface, closes his eyes and prepares to die, alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Above him, a boat approaches his burning life raft. He opens his eyes and, after a beat of incredulity, makes his way exhaustively to the surface. Here is where I thought the film would cut and end, leaving us without conclusion and resolve. I feel like it would have deserved it, in a Nolan-esque turn of nonsense will-he-won’t-he conundrum. Luckily we get our resolve as a welcoming hand extends into the dark water and is, thankfully, grabbed by Our Man. He is saved.
All Is Lost. What a film. What a performance by Redford. I was transfixed throughout and to the very end did not expect him to make it. I thought this would be a dour film with a message of forgiveness whilst you still can, and loving those around you, not being selfish etc. Instead it was a different message, at least for me; do not give up, ever. You might think all is lost, and it probably is. But that does not mean that you can’t still make it. Just hold on. Salvation is there, if you can only swim up and grab it.
I am sorry to Robert Redford for saying he was a wooden actor.